Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Field Marks

The Rockport/Fulton Hummer/Bird Festival celebrates the passage of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their way south to Mexico and Central America. Black-chinned, Rufous, and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds can also be seen.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Archilochus colubris

Hundreds of kinds of hummingbirds nest in the American tropics, and more than a dozen in the American West, but east of the Great Plains there is only the Ruby-throat. There it is fairly common in summer in open woods and gardens. Hovering in front of a flower to sip nectar, it beats its wings almost 80 times per second. Impressive migrants despite their small size, some Ruby-throats may travel from southern Canada to Costa Rica.

Field Marks
The male Ruby-throat has a glowing fiery red throat, iridescent green back, and a forked tail. The female lacks the red throat; has a blunt tail with white spots.

3 - 3 3/4" (8-9 cm)

Similar Species
Ruby-throat is the only eastern hummingbird, but (1) Rufous Hummingbird may turn up occasionally along the Gulf Coast in late fall and winter. (2) Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird lacks forked tail. (3) Large sphinx moths (Sphingidae) might be mistaken for hummers, but seldom visit flowers before dusk.

Male in aerial display swings like a pendulum in a wide arc, each swing accompanied by a hum. Notes are high and squeaky.

Southern Canada to Gulf states. Winters southern Florida to western Panama.

Almost all leave North America in fall, wintering from Mexico to Costa Rica or Panama. Some may cross Gulf of Mexico, but most apparently go around Gulf, concentrating along Texas coast. In spring, males move north earlier than females.

Gardens, wood edges. Summers in a variety of semi-open habitats, including open woods, clearings and edges in forest, gardens, city parks. Winters mostly in rather open or dry tropical scrub, not usually in rain forest. Migrants may pause in any habitat with flowers.

Diet: Mostly nectar and small insects. Consumes nectar, especially from red tubular flowers such as trumpet vine, also many other flowers. Also feeds on sugar-water and oozing sap. Eats many small insects (such as aphids and gnats) and spiders.

Behavior: Feeds by hovering and inserting its bill in flowers to take nectar. Will also hover and perch at hummingbird feeders, and will visit holes drilled in tree bark by sapsuckers to feed on sap. Flies out from a perch to take insects in the air or from foliage.

In courtship display, male flies back and forth in wide U-shaped "pendulum" arc, making whirring sound on each dive; also buzzes back and forth in short passes in front of perched female. Male and female may fly up and down facing each other.

Nest: Site is in tree or large shrub, 5-50' above ground, usually 10-20', saddled on horizontal or sloping branch. Nest (built by female) is a cup of plant down and plant fibers, held together with spider webs, the outside camouflaged with lichens and dead leaves. May refurbish and reuse old nest.

Eggs: 2. White. Incubation is by female only, 11-16 days.

Young: Female feeds young by inserting her bill deep into their throats, then regurgitating food, including tiny insects and nectar. Nest gradually stretches as young grow. Age of young at first flight about 20-22 days. Usually 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

Thought to have declined in some areas in recent decades, but surveys show no distinct downward trend in numbers.

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